Saturday, September 01, 2007

How's this for really bad writing?

In 1993 my writing partner, David Isaacs and I did a short run series for CBS called BIG WAVE DAVE’S starring Adam Arkin and David Morse. (Pictured underneath the sign is Ron Jacobs, our technical adviser and now host of Whodaguyradio.com)

It ran that summer, got 19 shares, kept 100% of MURPHY BROWN’S audience and was cancelled. At the time CBS had starring vehicles in the wings for Peter Scolari, Bronson Pinchot, and the always hilarious Faye Dunaway so they didn’t need us.


We were given a production order of six with three back-up scripts. We assigned the first two back-ups to our staff and planned on writing the third ourselves. When the show was cancelled we put in to CBS to get paid for the additional scripts. They said fine, but we had to turn in the completed scripts. Gulp!

That was fine for the first two scripts because the writers already had drafts. But all David and I had was a title, “Marshall’s Brother” (Arkin was Marshall).
We normally write scripts by dictating them to our assistant. (Lots of advantages to this rather weird method which I can discuss in a future post.) Having done this for so long we can usually write a half hour episode in three to five days.

We called our assistant into the office and told her we were going to write a script before lunch. It was 11:30.
We had one ground rule. Anything pitched had to go into the script. There was no going back, not even to clean up a sentence. We came up with the idea that Marshall’s brother (Bill) had a hearing problem. Okay, we’re not proud of it, we know it’s not very PC, but this script was never to be produced, and we had a lunch reservation. So here’s a scene from our all-time worst teleplay.

BILL ENTERS.

MARSHALL
Hey, Bill.

BILL
What?

MARSHALL
I said hi.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
Hi.

BILL
Can’t understand you.

MARSHALL
Hello!!!!

BILL
Oh. Hello to you. How you feeling?

MARSHALL
Fine.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
I’m fine!!

BILL
Where’s Karen?

MARSHALL
In the back.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
In the back.

BILL
In the sack?

MARSHALL
No. The back room.

BILL
Why is she sleeping so late?

MARSHALL
She’s not in bed.

BILL
She hurt her head?

*******
And so on for 42 of the most rotten pages in comedy writing history. We finished the script in about 17 minutes, turned it in, got paid, but deep in my heart I know – one day, thousands of years from now, long after some global thermonuclear disaster, someone will discover this vault, open it, and the only thing left of my work, my one lasting legacy, will be the “Marshall’s Brother” episode of BIG WAVE DAVE’S.

I wish now we had taken our time and finished it in 23 minutes.

18 comments:

Carlo C. said...

The end was kinda funny. :P

R.A. Porter said...

I think the only thing missing was a catch phrase for Bill. Maybe something along the lines of...

"What the pasta fazul!?!"

Beth said...

I liked the ending also.

JargonX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JargonX said...

What's so bad about at that? Have you seen According to Jim?

This is fucking genius.

D. McEwan said...

The funniest hard-of-hearing gag I ever saw was in a French farce by Feydeau called AN ABSOLUTE TURKEY, which it was anything but.

A character anxious to catch her spouse comitting adultery, rigged the bed in an hotel room where the husband was to meet his lover, so that if you sat or lay on the mattress, a DEAFENINGLY loud klaxon alarm went off, and continued braying until you got up. (The bedroom took up only part of the stage, with the sitting room taking up the rest.) Lots of accidental seatings on the mattress ocurred, but the pay-off came when another couple was checked into the room. (It was farce, so naturally the alarm was set-up in the wrong suite.)

The wrong couple was a stuffy elderly British colonel and his absolutely deaf wife. Of course the deaf wife decided to go to bed early, and sacked out on the rigged bed. The deafingly alarm went off and continued braying for what must have been five minutes, causing comic chaos all over the hotel, while the deaf wife slept on, on the alarm, serenely undisturbed by the horrific cacophony she was unknowingly unleashing.

I don't know how this reads, but it was hilarious on stage. And that was without the comic stylings of Faye Dunaway.

Anonymous said...

If there's a writer's strike, the network may produce it. It's better than reality shows.

la guy said...

If the Network had a sense of humor they would have returned the script with some notes, like "Need to more clearly establish Bill is hard of hearing."

Coincidentally 17 minutes is about the amount of time that goes into crafting the average reality show script. And 15 of those are the minutes just before the show goes live.

Anonymous said...

I once saw a script that had over 400 pages of:

"I'm an alien."

"What's that you say?"

"I'm an alien; An alien king."

"An alien King?"

"Yes. Truly, I am the alien king."

Lairbo said...

I remember Big Wave Dave's. One line in particular has always stayed with me, Marshall responding to why he isn't happier about finally living in Hawaii:

"I didn't expect it to look so much like rural Alabama."

I once told this to a friend who is a long-time Hawaii (Big Island) resident; she laughed so hard so snorked coffee out her nose.

Gail Renard said...

No the TRULY terrible thing would be if a future critic judged it was the zenith of your work.

Dan Coyle said...

I remember Big Wave Dave's was a top ten show and I was rather astonished it didn't get picked up.

And IIRC, that Faye Dunaway vehicle- midway through the season she was done away with during retooling and the show became just about Robert Urich's character.

Robert Urich. Man, I miss Robert Urich.

D. McEwan said...

There's no truth the rumor that it was working with Faye on that sitcom (Which I suffered through every episode of) which killed Robert Urich, though it didn't do him any good either.(Gay man's side note: Robert Urich *SIGH* What a beauty he was!)

Character's who say WHAT a lot: It arises out of the writer's or the producer's or the network's not trusting the audience to be paying close attention, and feeling the need to tell us everything twice. Better writers will try to at least use it, by making some joke response to "What?" before repeating the exact same information all over again. The cumulative effect was to make everyone on TV sound slow-witted or hard-of-hearing. Annoys the crap out of me, and makes me want to pay less attention.

Will Teullive said...

Never got to see Big Wave Dave's. I tried to YouTube it and got nothing. But, that LA Rams t-shirt Ron Jacobs is sporting reminds me of that Super Bowl team in '79, Vince Ferragamo, Wendell Tyler, Lawrence McCutcheon, etc.. They put up a good fight against the Steelers but came up a little short.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Reminds me of one of the crap commercials for "Back to You" with the weather girl introducing herself:

"I'm the weather girl, but I prefer 'meteorologist'."

"But you're not a meteorologist."

"But I prefer it."

Yeah. That'll last nine seasons.

A. Buck Short said...

Ken, I promise, just this one more to catch up.

Because we’ve only had this short time to “cyberbond,” and you’ve got this Hawaii connection, I wanted to relate an unusual circumstance in which was pressed into service on a Hawaiian-Hard-of-Hearing sketch. Because one never passes up an act-of- alliteration, even on vacation.

It was Wednesday, May 7, 1986 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel. I will always remember the date, because we had just heard Jack Lord deliver when they announced a major tsunami alert. There had been an earthquake in Alaska that had touched off quakes in Japan and Taiwan, and the tsunami was scheduled to hit Oahu almost precisely at 7:30pm. that evening.

It didn’t take very long to scare the crap out of anybody after they told us we would “probably” be safe if we didn’t go any lower than the SEVENTEENTH floor of the hotel for 4-5 hrs. They then put me in charge of the “entertainment” during this hostage situation.

There was little time for totally original material, so I created a character, Myron Kahona the world’s greatest “Jewaiian” storyteller, and entered the room wearing an Astroturf grass skirt I improvised with turf left over from the lanai carpeting. Do you have any idea how much an Astroturf grass skirt weighs?

After announcing that The Aloha Poem is ALWAYS followed exactly four-and-one-half hours later by a tsunami and attempting to auction the offshore drilling rights to Jack Lord’s hair, I proceeded into a dozen 30-year-old Myron Cohen jokes transparently re- assigned a Hawaiian location or punchline:

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my poi.”
“I got the grass skirt from Arnold Pal-i-mer at the Masters – or was it Pal-im Springs or Pal-im Beach?” You get the idea.

It had been less than two weeks since Chernobyl. I had an ersatz comedy partner, and we worked our way into Don Ho singing “Tiny Hydrogen Bubbles in the Wine.” I will eat my shorts if 232 others hadn’t already gone into the obvious that followed. In abbreviated form: “Don Ho?” “Don who?” “Don Ho, the singer.” “What?” “Not What, who?” “Who?” “Ho, Don Ho.” “What?” “Ho. Ho Ho Ho!” “Myron, neither a nuclear accident nor a tsunami is any laughing matter!”

With detours into a sister (the Ho with a heart of gold) and Don “Q” the Puerto Rican rum distributor, it was 7:30 and we all went out on different balconies to watch the tsunami wreak its havoc. Not a ripple. OK, you can have your blog back now. Sorry. Who else with Hawaii and a hard of hearing bit do I have to share this with?

SIDE NOTE TO D. MCEWAN -

I worked with Robert Urich – or as he was known in Boston, “Rabbit Yurr-itch.” He had a beautiful wife, the actress Heather Menzies. (She had been one of the kids in “The Sound of Music.” I think maybe FA.)

A. Buck Short

A. Buck Short said...

SORRY

THAT WAS "JACK LORD DELIVERED THE ALOHA POEM."
Mahalo

Bruce Tritton said...

OK. Is it bad to admit that had me in hysterics?